Fascinated by Queen Victoria

Good old Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819…200 years ago!! Queen Victoria may be long dead and gone, yet in a way she lives on. She lent her name and birthday to the glorious long weekend we are now celebrating. And she lives on in numerous place and street names around the globe as well as inspiration for books and movies.

My daughter and I recently decided we wanted to watch a TV series together, something British. We selected Victoria and steadily worked our way through Seasons 1 and 2. We were enthralled — addicted? — from the get go! Just so you know, this is NOT your stout, dowdy, “we are not amused” Queen Victoria. This is a young, vibrant Victoria (just 18 years of age when she came to the throne), a headstrong Victoria filled with steely determination to do things her own way. Viewers are treated to pomp and circumstance, romance (both royal and below stairs variety), juicy scandal, and plenty of scheming and intrigue.

The cast is superb. Jenna Coleman plays Queen Victoria, Tom Hughes is her husband, Prince Albert, and Rufus Sewell portrays Lord Melbourne, the prime minister. I have to confess to a secret hankering after the Prince Ernst character (David Oakes), the oh-so-handsome and charming but badly-behaved older brother of Prince Albert.

Season 3 of Victoria comes out on DVD later this month. Cannot wait!

As we watched the series, I also read the companion book, Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, the creator and writer of the TV series. Highly enjoyable. Looking for more Victoria-inspired reading or viewing? Here are a couple of newish offerings I would recommend: Victoria & Abdul (DVD) and Queen Victoria: twenty four days that changed her life (book) by Lucy Worsley.

I have become quite fascinated with Queen Victoria, so I will leave you with two facts I bet you did not know. First, when Victoria was born the chances of her ever becoming queen were extremely remote as she was the daughter of the fourth son of the old King. Also, when Queen Victoria died (in 1901) she was the longest reigning monarch in British history (at 63 years) … though that record has recently been surpassed by her great-great granddaughter, the present Queen, at 67 years, and counting.

Happy Victoria Day!

— Penny D.

The Romanov Empress

If you like historical fiction, The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner is a great read! Narrated by Maria Feodorovna, the mother of the last Tsar of Russia, it follows her life from her idyllic childhood as a Danish Princess through to her role as Dowager Empress of Russia during the Bolshevik revolution.

Minnie, as she is known by friends and family, is betrothed to Nicholas Romanov, the heir to the throne of Tsar Alexander Romanov II. Falling terminally ill unexpectedly, Nicky begs Minnie, upon his death, to marry his brother Alexander III. At the age of 19, Minnie feels that she has no option but to accede to her late fiancee’s request and marries the new heir apparent, a bullish and brooding man, quite unlike his gentle and refined brother. With time though, Minnie, now officially Maria Feodorovna, develops a deep love and respect for this besotted man and bears him six children.

Covering the time period from 1862 to 1918, the story illustrates the dynastic entitlement that accompanies those born of royal blood. We are witness to the opulence and extravagance of the wildly wealthy while at the same time observing the tremendous pressure borne by those fettered by the traditions and behavioural mandates of the Royal family.

As we watch the lives of the Romanovs unfold over the years, we are also witness to the fomenting of rebellion within Russia. While the Royals live lives of extraordinary excess, extreme poverty for many Russians affords them a life of hopelessness and hunger. Dissent runs rampant in the country with many assassination threats and attempts on the Tsar’s life. After one group, the Nihilists, are eventually hung or banished, their cause is picked up by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks. We all know the story does not end well for Maria’s son, Tsar Nicholas and his family. Facing utter contempt from his citizenry, in part due to the reliance the Royals have put on a ‘sorcerer’, Grigori Rasputin, the Romanovs are without support from the masses and the country rings out with calls of death to the Tsar.

0425286169This novel was well-researched and gives the reader plenty of opportunity to observe the excesses and trials of the Russian monarchy. It also gives additional information on the fate of the surviving Romanovs after their escape from Russia. There are two family trees in the front of the book, one for the Royal Family of Denmark and one for the Imperial Romanovs of Russia.

I would strongly suggest that readers avail themselves of these familial road maps as the interweaving of the families makes it hard to keep straight who the characters are and from which bloodline they descend.

— Nancy C.

Tis the Season…for Wedding Movies!

The warm weather is here along with the flowers and bells of wedding season. Horse drawn carriages, brides in white gowns, vows of love all sealed with a kiss – weddings are fairytales come to life. The Waterloo Public Library has an extensive collection of movies showcasing all the charms and attractions that weddings have to offer, along with all the over-the-top drama that comes with planning them.

The Royal Wedding
Let’s start off with the biggest wedding of the year – Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle. When there is so much tragedy featured in the media it is refreshing to finally see something happy on the news. This DVD covers the pre-wedding celebrity arrivals, the ceremony and post-wedding farewells from the crowds lining the streets.

The Wedding Plan
An Israeli movie about an Orthodox Jewish woman named Michal on her path to marriage. However, things between Michal and her fiancé crumble one month before the wedding ceremony. Rather than cancel the wedding, she continues her planning with the belief that her faith will guide her to true love in time for the ceremony.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
This is my personal favourite wedding movie. It originally started out as a one-woman play and went on to become one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time. The star of the film, Nia Vardalos, based the story on her own Greek family life and eventual marriage to a non-Greek man.

The Wedding Singer
Adam Sandler plays a disgruntled wedding singer so bitter that he sets out to ruin other people’s weddings. This is until he meets a bubbly waitress played by Drew Barrymore. As time goes on he realizes there may be hope for true love after all.

Four Weddings and Funeral
Although it was originally released in the 90’s, this movie has stood the test of time. Full of British humour and a brilliant performance by Hugh Grant, the film centres on an awkward young man and his romantic life. He becomes love-struck by a young American woman who he keeps meeting at different weddings and of course, a funeral.

The Hangover
This is a wedding movie for guys. The film begins when the groomsmen get together to give the groom-to-be one last hurrah in Las Vegas. They have a wild night that no one can seem to remember. The next day the groom is nowhere to be found and the wedding is just hours away.

Bridesmaids
Comedies aren’t always recognized for Academy Awards, but Bridesmaids received both an Original Screenplay and a Best Supporting Actress (Melissa McCarthy) nomination. Annie, a down-on- her-luck sales clerk is asked to be the Maid of Honour at her best friend’s wedding where she instantly clashes with the other girls serving as bridesmaids. This original film pushes the boundaries when it comes to vulgar humour and female comediennes.

There are many more wedding movies and romantic comedies in our collection. Curl up with a glass of wine and a few tissues and enjoy some great wedding flicks.

— Lesley L.

The Royal We

Guilty pleasures – we all have them. We all need them. A harmless indulgence to turn to when the evening’s pile of dishes is too high or it seems like you simply cannot fill the day’s school and work lunch bags one more time.

WPL has been helping to feed mine for years with the subscriptions to the simply magical Royalty-watching magazines Majesty and Hello! Canada. Occasionally I augment my magazine reading with something from the non-fiction shelves by Penny Junor or Sally Bedell Smith. And, in the early spring of 2015, I was thrilled to read that two fashion bloggers were writing a fictionalized tell-all based on the romance of Will and Kate. After being captivated by this splendid romance I regularly turn to the website from authors Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan often as they publish a weekly “Royals Round Up” with a collection of royalty news from around the world and share sweet little nuggets of silliness about the families they cover. I highly recommend it. They make me smile every weekend with their comments about sweet Royal babies, tiaras and glamorous dresses and have added a tagline to their website that says “Will the Prince marry an American? We wrote the book on that.” because they did and it is spot on.

The idea behind the novel The Royal We is that they have used the facts of Will and Kate’s love story and written a novel entirely about them, just slightly adjusting their names, and adding in some fun details where they couldn’t dig up the facts. Their Kate is ‘Bex’ and Will is ‘Nick’ and his brother is a rakish red-haired ‘Freddie’ but the timelines match and you can perfectly imagine every step that they are taking if you have seen the photographs of Will and Kate on the campus of St. Andrews. Conveniently for these two bloggers they added a twist that their future queen is actually an American who comes to England to spend a year studying and meets her future husband/prince. She didn’t even come with the idea of romance in mind – she just wanted to sketch and paint. It’s always that way in the best romance novels, isn’t it?

In their swoon-worthy story Nick/Will is prime royalty so there are glitzy parties and museum openings with paparazzi chases but the real connection begins with a friendship built over binge watching American vampire TV shows in their dorm rooms. His brother Freddie is everything you would want him to be – charming, hilarious, a new girl on his arm every night – adding a light touch to balance the tension of Bex getting to know Nick’s very formal extended family. Poor Bex faces British tabloids, critical society snobs and personal demons in the years before Nick proposes (it’s based on their life story, you know how it ends, so I am not spoiling anything for anyone here) and I enjoyed reading it the first time and have recently re-read in my excitement over Harry’s (or Freddie’s?) wedding. The supporting cast of minor royals and friends who attend university with Nick and Bex do a wonderful job of hanging about and it ends perfectly but with enough suspense that it keeps you turning the pages. It’s just delightful reading for anyone wrapped up in the excitement of watching Harry and Meghan’s wedding unfold.

I know that any book written by two American fashion bloggers will be more of a vacation read – perfect for the beach or the airplane – for many and, because it is written with the young royal family as the main focus there is more of an emphasis on the fun side of things than the historical beauty of St. George’s Chapel, but it ends with Bex/Kate trying on endless wedding dresses and isn’t that what we look forward to in a romance novel? This is a book you read for diversion or entertainment – not so that you can bring it up at the next party you attend, unless it is a party to celebrate the Royal Wedding. And, did you know you can even download it from Overdrive and read it on your eReader so your family doesn’t have to know that you are enjoying it a second time? Perfection!

If you want to relive the formal thrills of Kate and Will’s April 2011 wedding or look forward to the casual beauty of Harry and Meghan’s May 2018 wedding you really cannot go wrong with The Royal We. You should brew a whole pot of tea for this one.

— Penny M.